Top 5 Puppy Behavior Tips

It's that happy time of year at our office when we get covered up with brand-new, cute and cuddly Christmas puppies. Come springtime, however, many of these puppies will have morphed into fiendish little devils, and their owners will be quite surprised.

If you're getting a puppy this Holiday Season, it's critical that you understand "good-dogs" don't "just happen", and behavioral problems are the main reason dogs are relinquished to a shelter. A well-behaved dog is the result of early training by a great owner!

Here are the 5 most important tips for training your new puppy:

1. Puppy training should begin IMMEDIATELY and cannot wait until after the puppy is fully vaccinated. Between 4 and 14 weeks of age, puppies are the most prepared to accept new people and animals than at any other time. This is prime-time for socialization--introduce your puppy to anything they may encounter as an adult during these formative weeks such as:

--a variety of people (old, young, male, and female);

--healthy, fully-vaccinated, and friendly dogs owned by trustworthy friends;

--other species such as cats, livestock, birds, ferrets, etc;

--being held, touched, groomed, and tooth brushing;

--a variety of sights, smells, and sounds (use your smartphone, especially for thunderstorm sounds).

Be smart about these encounters, however. Until a puppy has completed his vaccination series (at 16 weeks of age), he is at risk of contracting an infectious life-threatening disease. So, stay away from dog parks and don't take him shopping at pet stores where he could interact with a questionable dog.

2. You must understand "normal" puppy behavior, as puppies that are fearful, aggressive, or unwilling to explore or interact need IMMEDIATE help. This behavior can often be changed if the training is started before 14 weeks of age. 

Normal, healthy puppies explore calmly or playfully, exhibit friendly behavior, are responsive when invited to interact, and can tolerate an examination. Some subtle signs of stress include yawning, lip licking, looking sleepy, and/or refusing treats when being handled.

3. You must train for desired behaviors, and train to prevent frustrating behaviors.

Densensitize the collar

  • Keep a bowl of his kibble (dry food) on the counter in the kitchen to use as training treats.
  • Whenever you enter the kitchen, pick up a kibble, reach down and lightly tug on your puppy's collar, and then quickly reward him with praise and give him the kibble with your hand that is not holding his collar. Do this with your left and then right hand. Repeat many times throughout the day.
  • This is a critical first training step as it gets your puppy used to the collar, he learns to settle down quickly, and it teaches the beginning of "sit" and "recall" (or "come") when called.

Prevent jumping

  • Teach your puppy to sit, and ask him to sit before anyone pets him. Initially, holding toys or treats can keep a puppy's attention until he sits.
  • For overzealous puppies, 1 person can hold a leash just taut enough so sitting is more comfortable than jumping up.

Prevent house soiling

  • Supervision is critical; it's important to create an elimination schedule for puppies.
  • Active puppies need to urinate as often as every 15 minutes. Puppies typically eliminate immediately after they wake up and within 10-15 minutes of eating or drinking.
  • When supervision is not possible, puppies should be confined to a safe area or crate.
  • If puppies need to be left alone for extended periods, provide a safe opportunity for relief. Confinement areas should include a sleeping place and a designated substrate for toileting. For example, a crate with bedding may be placed inside a larger enclosure such as a play-yard that contains a pad for elimination. Puppies should be left for no more than 1 hour for every 1 month in age, plus 1 additional hour.
  • If a “mistake” occurs despite these preventive strategies, puppies should not be scolded—they are still learning. Reprimands and raised voices create confusion and fear.
  • Clean up accidents thoroughly with enzyme-based cleaners. If possible, place paper towels used for clean-up outside in areas designated for your puppy's elimination.

Prevent mouthing

  • Puppies often mouth when they become excited during petting or play. Always keep a toy handy. It is easy to teach puppies to hold a toy instead of a hand.  
  • Games such as fetch can keep puppies focused on toys instead of hands; do not encourage your puppy to play with your hand.

Prevent destructive behavior

  • Puppies explore the world with their mouths and benefit from having an assortment of toys that are regularly rotated to retain novelty. Make sure these toys are non-destructible, as some puppies will swallow foreign objects which may cause intestinal blockage.
  • When supervision is not available, puppies should be confined in a safe area or crated with a safe chew toy or long-lasting treat.
  • Food-dispensing toys keep puppies busy—at least 1 meal a day can be fed in a food-dispensing toy.

4. All puppies benefit from structured, reward-based puppy training classes. Pick a class that has a calm atmosphere, is respectful to owners and puppies, and is reward-based. It's best to avoid classes that use confrontational training methods as studies show they are associated with fear and aggression in dogs.

5. Let your veterinarian know if your puppy exhibits any undesirable behaviors such as jumping up, growling, excessive barking, mouthing, destructive behavior, or housebreaking problems. You may be able to tolerate these for the short term, but most puppies will not "outgrow" these behaviors and, in fact, they often get worse with age. I can't stress enough that eliminating bad behavior by training a puppy after 16 weeks of age is infinitely more difficult than training in those earlier weeks.

We're happy to help you with your new puppy! If you have questions about vaccinations, training, deworming, heartworm or flea control, microchipping your puppy, or puppy diseases give us a call at 281.351.7184 or contact us at kindvet.com.

We love 'em like you do!

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